Dead Centre/Sea Wall at Red Stitch Theatre

It is a courageous move putting on a double bill of monologues each one excavating dark and highly emotional aspects of two people’s personal lives who both suffer tragic loss. But with exquisitely drawn characters and the evocative language, this Red Stitch production is wonderful.

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Director Julian Meyrik leaves the walls of academia at Flinders University temporarily to direct this latest offering from the team at Red Stitch. The direction is understated, simple and seamless. The two monologues, each running for approximately 35minutes, require the care and nurturing of a well-seasoned theatre-maker and who better to place at the helm than Meyrik. In his program notes he states that we must ‘equip ourselves with a functioning emotional radar’ as he justifies why it is necessary to mount on stage stories of suffering.

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These two monologues are about suffering and the evening is quite heavy going, but because the acting is so natural and effortless and the production values so strong, we become enthralled by a quietly pervasive sense of what it means to be human.

Last year the St Kilda theatre company commissioned Australian writer Tom Holloway (known for his plays Red Sky Morning and Love Me Tender amongst an impressive array of others) to write a complementary play to the British playwright Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall. Sea Wall had received a glowing reception from English audiences. Stephens has gained a reputation as one of Britain’s most important contemporary playwrights having adapted the novel A Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time to the stage and wrote his intriguing 2014 piece Birdland which was performed this year at the Melbourne Theatre Company.

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The two monologues become intertwined in a beautiful and seamless way, they are illuminating as well as harrowing. Holloway’s piece comes first and is serenely executed by ensemble actor, Rosie Lockhart, who plays Helen. Helen is lost. This British character is tired of life it seems and she tries to find solace in travel by heading, on a whim, to Australia.

We learn why she fled and gain some understanding of her predicament later on in the piece. As Helen stands against the majesty of Uluru, she is engulfed with pain and distress and cannot help herself from breaking down. A piece about emptiness, losing what is dear to oneself and the art of survival are the main themes of Dead Centre.

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I am so grateful for Red Stitch each time I enter its doors. In one evening we are served Holloway’s World premiere and Stephens’ Australian premiere, this double helping of carefully composed scripts each dealing with our unspoken desires and our nagging desperation which are usually both too difficult to articulate as we inhabit the every day. Theatre is many things to many people but what you get with this evening are two separate monologues coming together to tell a story of two seemingly straightforward, every day people who are coping with life. Lockhart is beautiful on stage and her middle-class English accent was flawless. Her stage presence was so strong due to her confidence in front of an audience and her obvious skill set as an actor.

Without too much of a pause we are taken to the world of Alex (Ben Prendergast) who is just as accomplished as Lockhart in his depiction of a man afflicted by loss. Prendergast is never over emotional and has a charm about him where we immediately are taken in by the pain his character experiences.

The darkened stage (Set and lighting design by Matthew Adey) is an engrossing facet of the evening. Figures of Alex and Helen emerge from upstage. Out of the shadows come memories and lost hopes. Only a bench seat is used momentarily within the pieces as, for the most part, the performers stand directly facing the audience.

Digital design by Katie Cavanagh is also a great feature of the evening. Slightly cloudy, sometimes non-descript images are projected in three areas which resembled TV screens that hang along the front top of the performance area. These projections complement the monologues perfectly.

These two playwrights ask us to ponder the bigger questions in life. They both explore affliction and what it means to have a sense of place. They do this with sensitivity and courage.

Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East.

Until August 15th

4/5 stars.

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